More than 103,000 Nicaraguans left the country between January and May 2022, an unprecedented number in Nicaragua’s recent history. This number only includes data of those who arrived in the United States and Costa Rica, the two main destinations of Nicaraguan migrants.
In May, the US Customs and Border Protection registered a record number of Nicaraguans apprehended at US borders in a single month: 18,998. So far in 2022, there have been 72,699 captures of Nicaraguan migrants.
In Costa Rica, between January and May, the migration authorities have received 30,795 new refugee applications from Nicaraguans, according to data provided by Manuel Orozco, specialist in migration, and an Inter-American Dialogue researcher. Orozco points out that Nicaraguans who arrive in these two countries generally make up 90% of all migration from Nicaragua.
“Even with a 15% return, we are talking about that between 2020 and 2022, 400,000 people will have left Nicaragua,” says Orozco. To illustrate the magnitude of the increase in the departure of Nicaraguans, he explains that, considering that the annual Nicaraguan population growth is 1.2% according to the World Bank – about 78,000 per year –, it can be said that there are more people leaving the country than being born.”
Nicaragua has historically been a country of migrants. For decades, Nicaraguans have left because of political instability, natural disasters, and lack of opportunities.
The main destinations have been Costa Rica, where according to official figures 300,000 Nicas live; the United States, home to some 460,000 Nicas; and Spain with 60,000. However, Orozco stresses, currently there is an accelerated growth never before seen, with the highest figures in Nicaraguan contemporary history, even greater than during the civil war in the1980s.
Origen: Ortega’s repression
The current increase in Nicaraguan migration has its origin in the socio-political crisis of 2018, which not only remains unresolved, but has deepened as a result of state repression, continuous human rights violations, the lack of civil liberties and the consolidation of the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
Between 2018 and 2019, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans left during the bloodiest months of repression ordered by the Ortega-Murillo regime to crush a massive citizen rebellion demanding democracy, justice and human rights.
In 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of borders in almost all countries of the hemisphere, the migratory flow decreased.
By mid-2021, when the government unleashed a new wave of repression before the November general elections of that year, the number of people leaving Nicaragua grew again, amid the arbitrary arrests and political prosecution of seven opposition presidential hopefuls, civic leaders, farmers, businesspersons, journalists, and human rights defenders who remain in prison. In total, at least 120,000 Nicaraguans left the country in 2021.
The migratory flow of the first months of 2022 already is almost equal to the total amount of last year. “If the trend continues, and there are 225,000 (new migrants) by the end of December 2022, it will be 3.3% of the population,” in one year, Orozco projects.
Added to the socio-political crisis is a difficult economic situation that Nicaraguans face, including unemployment, the high cost of living and an economy that hasn’t recuperated from the recession and economic downturn of the last four years, product of the crisis and the ravages of the pandemic. Currently, the population is also dealing with further increases in fuel and food prices, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Numbers similar to the “Northern Triangle”
For decades, the majority of Central American migrants heading to the United States were from the so-called “Northern Triangle” of Central America: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Today, the number of Nicaraguans arriving at the US border increasingly resembles that of Hondurans (78,411) and Guatemalans (95,293); and is higher than that of Salvadorans (38,997) in the same period from January to May 2022.
Meanwhile, since 2018, Costa Rica has accumulated a total of 130,000 requests from Nicaraguans for refuge, said Costa Rican Foreign Minister Arnoldo André Tinoco, who this week reported that the migration issue is of “very high priority” for the foreign policy for the government of President Rodrigo Chaves, who took office in May.
Tinoco explained that the international cooperation that Costa Rica has received to provide assistance to refugees and asylum seekers has been “insufficient” and that, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they have proposed to adopt strategies to seek more international financial support.